By TRISHA BARKER
The BYU men’s soccer team is aiming for the top this season, and team captains Abe Millet, Arthur Van Waggenen and Ryan Hawkins say anything less will be a disappointment.
BYU has won the national club championship for the past three years, and although the new team is largely composed of freshmen and recently returned missionaries, the Cougars still think they have a good shot at the top spot.
“We always expect to do as well as the year before,” said Millet, a senior defensive player from Honolulu. “The quality of our players just keeps going up. It seems like every year we have around 80 guys try out, and one or two returning players end up getting cut, which means the quality of the players must be getting better and better.”
The team opened its season last week, posting a 1-1-1 record for the four-day road trip. BYU lost the first game 3-0 to a Division I team from the University of Washington, but defeated the University of British Columbia, the Canadian College National Champion, 2-1, the following day. In the final game of the trip, the Cougars came back from a two-goal deficit to tie 3-3 with the Division I team from Oregon State.
Head coach Chris Watkins said the trip illuminated the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and allowed him to see what areas the players will need to improve on this season.
“Primarily, we need to make sure we’re composed with the ball and we’re opening up to the ball,” Watkins said. “Those are typical problems with the younger kids.”
Millet, Van Waggenen and Hawkins said the loss to Washington was disappointing, but that with so many new players, it’s hard to expect more so early in the season.
“We won one and tied one, but we let in seven goals,” Van Waggenen, a stopper from Salt Lake City, said. “I think that’s more than we let in all of last season.”
Despite the loss, the team captains seem confident that, with time, the team will be ready to face Division I competitors. Van Waggenen said last week’s road trip showed that, although the offense has stepped it up, the defense remains “suspect.”
“The biggest asset our team has was shown in the game we won,” said Hawkins, a forward from Mission Viejo, Calif. “We were down by one goal, but we were able to have the heart and character to overcome it. UW spanked us and was a great team to play, but the other two were competitive, not better than us. That ability to step it up and come from behind could help us down the road.”
BYU typically faces between four and six Division I teams each season. This year’s schedule features Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and the University of New Mexico.
“Our main goal will be to show well against Division I schools like Washington, because we’ve proven ourselves at the club level,” Van Waggenen said. “For our own satisfaction, we want to be able to compete with the bigger teams and know we can play at their level.”
Only seven starters will return to this year’s team, but Millet said speed on the outsides, depth in the goal and impressive athletic ability should anchor and lead the team.
BYU will open the season at home Sept. 10 against Utah State at South Field.
“We’ve never lost to them, but they always play us quite well,” Watkins said. “I guess you could say we’re their nemesis. But we expect to win. Anything less would be a disappointment.”